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Final Debate Turns Contentious in State Attorney General Primary

Capitol Media Services photo by Howard Fischer

The two Republican candidates for attorney general faced off Monday night in their last televised debate before early voting starts this week. Arizona Public Radio’s Howard Fischer was there.

Incumbent Tom Horne said he’s a known quantity with a record of arguing and winning cases, even at the Supreme Court. But the attacks from foe Mark Brnovich centered on problems outside the office, going back to campaign finance charges from his 2010 election. Horne told host Ted Simons of KAET-TV that his problems — or at least the publicity about them — is because he won that race, taking the office out of Democrat hands.

“And the liberal press couldn’t stand that. You and I have talked about this before and I exempted you from the liberal press. But they couldn’t stand that. And they engaged in ceaseless attacks on me, big headlines accusing me of coordinating with an independent campaign until a judge came along and said there’s nothing to it, it was a false charge,” Horne said.

That’s only partly true. What the administrative judge said is there is not enough evidence to pursue a case. But, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk disagreed and she’s demand Horne refund more than $400,000. Horne has other problems, including a highly publicized minor hit and run in 2012 and new charges by a former staffer that he’s been using his office for the current campaign. The result is that many Republicans, including Gov. Jan Brewer, are backing Brnovich. Horne said that’s irrelevant.

“There’s a small, self-selected group of people who consider themselves the establishment. And they want to choose the candidates and the officeholders and control them. But they don’t choose the candidates, the voters do,” Horne said.

Brnovich, who has used Horne’s problems as a key to his campaign, said those are just excuses.

“Unfortunately, Tom has been distracted by his legal and ethical problems. At some point we need to appreciate that it’s not the FBI, it’s not Republican county attorneys, it’s not the Clean Elections Commission. It’s always somebody else’s fault,” Brnovich said.

But Horne responded that Brnovich has provided little more than “empty words or empty promises.”

“Talk is cheap. Political promises are cheap. But one’s achievements tell you what they’re going to do,” Horne said.

The essence of Brnovich’s arguments did not escape Simons, who asked whether he was running for attorney general — or simply against Horne. His initial response was to list his endorsements.

“I am the only candidate that is running who has actually prosecuted cases in both the federal and state system. I’m the only candidate that’s worn our country’s uniform. I’ve been the director of a law enforcement agency. I would put my credentials and my resume up against everyone,” Brnovich said.

But Brnovich insisted on mentioning that 2012 hit and run. Horne said the report of the FBI, which had been following him, showed the damage was minor. He pleaded no contest and paid a $300 fine. Brnovich said Horne was still finessing his blame, provoking a response from Horne.

“Just admit it. I mean, you’ve been convicted of it,” Brnovich said.

“No, I …” Horne said.

“Why can’t you admit that, Tom? If you won’t be truthful with the voters here, you won’t be truthful with yourself, how can you be truthful with the voters?” Brnovich asked.

“You know, your bellowing at me doesn’t change the facts. And we can’t have an attorney general who can’t control his temper,” Horne said.

And they squabbled over who is a better Republican, with Brnovich brushing aside Horne’s point that at one time he donated money to a Democrat.

“If that’s all you got, I gave $120 to Pete Rios a decade ago. I mean, you were a Democrat. And you used to vote with the Democrats in the Legislature. So, at some point, this is silly, this is truly silly,” Brnovich said.

“I’ve been elected by conservative Republicans for the last 18 years,” Horne said.

And, Horne said even Ronald Reagan started out as a Democrat.

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